Our History

Catherine O'Neill ThornSince its inception in 2003, Art from Ashes (AfA) has provided creative empowerment workshops to high-risk youth, facilitating expression, connection and transformation among the most neglected and vulnerable segments of our community. Catherine O’Neill Thorn, founder and Executive Director, has been conducting transformational poetry and spoken word workshops at juvenile detention facilities, treatment centers, and schools—including post-trauma workshops for Columbine High School students—since 1992.

During her nearly 25 years of working with youth in various treatment venues, Catherine developed the Phoenix Rising curriculum. It is designed to empower struggling youth to express their creative genius through metaphor and expose them to a language based on self-affirmation and belief in a successful future. This method has since become the seminal program of Art from Ashes. In a series of 3-minute writing prompts facilitated over two hours, young people see immediate evidence of their creative ability and readily share their experiences—a process that often takes much longer using standard inquiry or therapies.

While Art from Ashes does not use poetry therapy in its process (in fact much of the facilitator training deliberately distinguishes our process from art therapy), our creative methodology provides results that surpass standard arts programming. The workshops provide a forum through creative expression for youth to recognize and acknowledge previous negative experiences through storytelling;  remove the barriers that isolate young people from each other, from caring adults, and from society; and allow youth to experience health and hope rather than the expectation of further victimization.

To date, AfA has provided creative workshops with 120 partnering organizations for more than 10,000 young people who have survived traumatic events, are victims of abuse, neglect and/or poverty, and are at risk for or engaged in destructive behaviors.

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